How to Find the Best Solar Companies in Hawaii
With sky high utility costs and an electricity grid already loaded down with rooftop solar, the best solar companies in Hawaii are mixing solar, batteries, and the right utility options to help you see the best financial return on your clean energy investment.
Hawaii is a true leader in renewable energy. Back in 2015, it became the first state in the US to set a 100% renewable energy goal and even now, 16% of the state’s electricity needs are met with solar – far more than most states.
The state’s desire to run on home-grown, cost-effective renewable energy is more than just an environmental strategy. Hawaii imports the vast majority of its fuel for electricity and a full 75% of its energy comes from burning expensive diesel. All this adds up to the highest electricity prices in the whole country.
So moving to solar and other renewable sources isn’t just good for Hawaii’s beautiful environment, but also the wallets of local homeowners and businesses.
Despite the state’s small population, Hawaii has about 100 solar installers working across the islands. With so many options, it can be hard to figure out where to start. The easiest way to find the best solar companies is to get quotes from local Hawaii installers
Average Home Installation Costs in Hawaii
Installing rooftop solar in Hawaii costs about $3.50 to 3.75 per watt. This is a bit higher than the average US cost, since Hawaii installers generally have higher sales and marketing costs as well as higher overhead.
But even with these high costs, Hawaii’s sky-high utility rates make rooftop solar an excellent long-term investment. In the US, the average utility rates is $0.13 per kWh. But at $0.31 per kWh, Hawaii homeowners suffer through costs that are over twice that average. That leaves a lot of room to see savings through rooftop panels.
|Installation Size||$/watt Cost||Total Cost (After Tax Credits)||Total Savings||ROI|
|Average (6 kW)||$3.75/watt||$10,750||$42,133||13%|
|Large (9 kW)||$3.75/watt||$18,625||$60,700||10%|
Savings far outweigh your costs over the lifetime of the installation, which is generally expected to be around 25 years. Across all three of the installation sizes above, you see a healthy ROI of 10% or more, though that return decreases as you move up in system size, since the 35% state tax credit maxes out at $5,000, which covers a smaller and smaller percentage of your total costs as you increase your costs.
Of course, your own savings will be affected by your installation location, utility credits (more on that in the last section), and energy use. For the most accurate estimate, you’ll need to reach out to an installer or two for a custom estimate. They’ll look at your energy use, your roof, and the available financing options to find the best value for your home.
The 3 Best Solar Installation Companies in Hawaii
When looking for the best solar company, you want to assess each installer’s experience, equipment, service, and cost. We sifted through Hawaii’s installers and choose the following three companies, based on these factors.
- Hi-Power Solar: Most Experienced
- Eco-Solar: Best Equipment
- Solar Help Hawaii: Best Customer Service
Hi-Power Solar: Most Experienced
Quick Look: Founded in 2010, 5,000 installations worth of panels
If you’re looking for a company with a high degree of experience, check out Hi-Power Solar. Founded in 2010, they’ve installed more than 120,000 panels since then, enough for about 5,000 residential installations.
While founder Ron Romero started the company in 2010, he’s been in the solar industry for over 30 years. Hi-Power is locally owned and operated and homeowners frequently mention salespeople and installers by name for their excellent service.
They install residential and commercial solar panels, solar water heaters, battery storage, and split AC. They’re a premier dealer for Sunpower and install Panasonic panels (which Tesla based its own panels on), as well as equipment from respected companies like Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and LG.
The battery system they install, the iDES, offers a wide range of capacities, from 9 kWh all the way to 108 kWh for those wanting to create a complete off-grid system.
They support cash and loan financing and offers solar leases through solar company Sunpower. Hi-Power is based in Pearl City and installs throughout Oahu.
If you’re looking for an experienced installer that offers a wide range of quality equipment, Hi-Power is a fantastic option. And just like all the installers we’ve included in our list, they provide excellent customer service as well.
Eco Solar: Best Equipment
Quick Look: Founded in 2008, 1,700 installations
If you’re looking for the absolute best solar panels, take a look at Eco Solar. They’re the only Master Dealer of Sunpower solar panels in the state (and one of only 20 in the country), so they’ve attended more trainings and passed more stringent customer experience and installation criteria that most Sunpower dealers.
Sunpower officially manufacturers the most efficient solar panels on the market. While most panels are able to convert about 18% of all the sunlight that hits the panels into usable electricity, Sunpower panels can convert about 23%. That’s about 30% more power from the same solar panel dimensions, so with Sunpower’s panels you can have a smaller installation that produces the same amount of electricity.
On top of that, Sunpower offers one of the best warranties in the solar industry. They provide a 25-year product guarantee as well as a production guarantee that your panels will produce 92% of the nameplate rating in Year 25 – about 10% more than most other companies.
All that to say, Sunpower panels are pretty sweet and, as a Master Dealer, you can rest assured that Eco Solar knows how to install them perfectly. Remember though that Sunpower panels are more expensive than standard options, so you’ll need to talk to your installer to see if they make financial sense for you.
Eco Solar is based in Waipahu and installs across Oahu.
Solar Help Hawaii: Best Customer Service
Quick Look: Founded in 2007, enjoys excellent customer reviews
If an excellent customer experience is what you’re looking for, check out Solar Help Hawaii. While all the installers on our list provide great service, Solar Help’s customer experience really shines.
Homeowners routinely call out sales and project management staff by name for the excellent communication and professionalism. The company is known to quickly return calls and offer personalized help when needed.
Added bonus: Several homeowners also note that Solar Help’s costs are quite competitive compared to other installers and they’ve partnered with Hawaii State Federal Credit Union to offer solar loans as well.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to install multiple solar upgrades at one time, Solar Help is a pretty good option. They install a long list of solar-related products, including PV solar, battery systems, solar hot water, solar attic fans, solar pool pumps, solar pool heating, solar-powered split AC systems.
If you’re looking for attentive, personalized service both before and after the installation is complete, Solar Help Hawaii can certainly deliver. They are based in Honolulu and install throughout Oahu.
How to Choose a Solar Installer in Hawaii
Here’s a few tips to help you find the best installer for your rooftop solar.
Before making any final decisions, be sure to discuss with and receive estimates from a handful of installers.
Solar estimates include a lot of useful information that you’ll be able to compare:
- Total installation costs
- Annual and lifetime production (how much electricity your installation will produce)
- Annual and lifetime financial savings
- Equipment details, including efficiency and warranty
- Financing details, like interest rates, and how they affect savings
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider! While one installer might offer lower prices, another might offer better equipment with longer warranties for a slightly higher overall cost.
Taking time to discuss with multiple companies and comparing the quotes is the easiest way to ensure you get the most cost-effective system available.
Because solar is so prevalent, solar contractor licensing in Hawaii is more developed than in other states. The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs offers several solar-related contractor licenses:
- Electrical Contractor (C-13) – These electrical contractors can do it all. They can both install the entire solar installation and connect it to the grid.
- Solar Power Systems Contractor (C-60) – Can install the panels, rooftop wiring, inverters, and all other low-voltage DC wiring, but can’t legally connect the system to your home. The solar installer must subcontract that work to an electrical contractor (C-13 licence). (This hand-off is a very common set-up in other states as well.)
If you’re looking to install a solar hot water system, there are also numerous other licenses:
- Plumbing Contractor (C-37): Can install solar water heating systems
- Solar Energy Systems Contractor (C-61): Can install hot water systems for homes and pools in residential and commercial applications.
- Solar Hot Water Systems Contractor (C-61a): Can install the solar collectors, storage containers, controls, and pumps.
- Solar Heating and Cooling Systems Contractor (C-61b): Install solar heating and cooling systems, but must subcontract all specialty work to other specialists
All of the above licenses require 4 years of experience as well as testing and exams. When looking at installers, make sure they have all the required licenses, but still take time to read up on their experience and customer reviews.
When installing solar, you want warranties for both your equipment as well as your installation as a whole (typically offered as a workmanship warranty).
Manufacturers will cover all equipment with their own warranties. Your solar panels actually include two distinct warranties: 1) a product warranty, just like any other item you’d buy, and 2) a production guarantee, guaranteeing that your solar panels won’t drop in efficiency too quickly.
Hawaii doesn’t require solar installers to offer workmanship warranties, which cover issues that could arise either during or because of your installation, like roof leaks or shingle damage.
Most installers typically offer a 10-year workmanship warranty, but that varies from 0 to 25 years. Also, some installers don’t cover roof penetrations under the workmanship warranty, offering instead a separate, shorter warranty.
Be sure to have a conversation with your potential installers about the length of the equipment and workmanship warranties they offer, as well as what events are covered under each warranty.
Financing Options in Hawaii
Hawaii homeowners can choose from cash, loan, or lease/PPA to finance their solar installations.
Paying for your solar installation in cash offers the easiest way to go solar. You pay the installer, they install your rooftop system, you’re done. It doesn’t get easier than that.
With cash, you don’t have to worry about loan interest or leasing fees, so your lifetime savings are far higher. And since you’re adding a tangible asset to your home, your property values increase as well.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that solar homes generally sell for $4/watt more than similar non-solar homes. While the study’s a few years old now (published in 2015), it still shows that solar is a valuable addition to your home for which buyers are willing to pay extra.
The downside, of course, is that your cash is tied up in a long-term investment. But no matter your financing mechanism, solar is no different than investing in the stock market or real estate. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a sound, long-term investment that saves you money over many years – and helps the environment at the same time.
If you don’t have the cash saved up for a solar investment, loans are an excellent option in states with plentiful sun and high utility rates like Hawaii. Since you’ll also be paying interest on the loan, your financial savings from installing rooftop solar will be lower, but it can still be worthwhile.
Like any loan, shop around for the best interest rate and loan term. Solar installers always have a few specialty solar lenders they like to work with, like Dividend Solar, that work nationwide and focus exclusively on financing green energy projects.
Utilities and local credit unions can also offer low-interest loans for solar and energy efficiency projects, so be sure to ask around. Hawaii State Federal Credit Union, for example, offers loans specifically for solar with 0% interest for the first 24 months. Big Island Federal Credit Union also offers loans for solar, solar hot water, and solar air conditioning.
Solar Leases and Power Purchase Agreements
Hawaii homeowners can also go solar by financing via solar leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs). Large companies like Sunrun, Vivint Solar, and Sunpower generally offer solar leases and PPAs, as they require huge amount of capital that smaller companies simply don’t have.
Through both of these mechanisms, your installer retains ownership of the installation and you either pay a monthly fee to use the system (ie, the lease) or pay for each kilowatt-hour of solar energy it produces (ie, the PPA).
Solar leases or PPAs generally require no money down and no investment on the homeowner’s side beyond the time to get everything set up. You don’t have to worry about maintenance or warranties, so it’s very hands-off.
If you’re not eligible for the federal tax credit, they could also be a good way to indirectly take advantage of this great incentive, since the credit goes to the owner of the installation (ie, your installer).
However, there’s a big downside. With a solar lease or PPA, you’ll see the lowest savings of all the available financing methods. If you want to increase your financial payout as much as possible, consider moving forward with a loan or cash payment instead.
With the federal and state tax credits, Hawaii homeowners can knock off a huge portion of their solar investment.
Federal Tax Credit
The federal tax credit, officially known as the Investment Tax Credit or ITC, is worth 30% of the entire cost of your installation. It’s the single biggest solar incentive in the US, and can offer a significant discount on your total solar investment. At the current rate of 30%, you’d see a discount of $5,400 on your $18,000 installation.
You apply for this incentive yourself during the next tax season. Keep in mind: the federal tax credit is non-refundable, so the IRS will not reimburse you if your tax return drops below $0. However, you can break it down and claim a portion over several years. If you’re on a small income or retired, be sure to ask your tax specialist if you’d be able to take advantage of this powerful incentive.
The federal tax credit will begin phasing out at the end of 2019. In 2020, the tax credit drops to 26%. In 2021, it drops to 23%. In 2022, it runs out completely. If you’re thinking about going solar, it’s time to pull the trigger!
State Tax Credit
The state of Hawaii also offers a 35% income tax credit based on the value of your solar installation, up to $5,000. Unlike the federal tax credit, Hawaii’s is actually refundable, meaning you could get paid out with a check for this credit, though you’ll have to drop the amount to 30%. Still, it’s an awesome deal that’s not available anywhere else, as far as we know.
If your income is exempt from taxes or you make less than $20,000, you can also receive this tax credit as a refund. If you want to go for the full 35% credit, you’re still able to break it down into chunks over several years, until you’ve completely used up the credit.
Hawaii’s solar tax credit has been going strong since the 1970s and unlike the federal tax credit, it doesn’t have an expiration date. It’s one of the best state tax credits for solar in the country, so enjoy!
No Hawaii utilities offer incentives for photovoltaic (PV) solar, though there are incentives for solar hot water.
If you’re a customer of HECO, Maui Electric, or HELCO, Hawaii Energy offers a $750 instant rebate for solar water heaters and offers zero- to low-interest loans as well.
Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative also offers a $1,000 rebate for solar water heaters as well as zero-interest loans for solar hot water.
Hawaii Solar Policy Information
Hawaii has one of the highest penetrations of solar energy of any state in the US. Distributed solar – residential and commercial rooftop solar – has doubled since 2014 and solar makes up 16% of the state’s electricity generation.
This huge uptick in rooftop solar has sent the local utilities into a tizzy. They question whether the electric grid can handle so much distributed solar so quickly. After all, that’s thousands of new electricity sources in a very short time.
In response, the Hawaii Public Utility Commission (which is in charge of regulating utilities) mandated that Hawaii Electric (the dominant utility company in Hawaii) could close its net metering program to new customers in 2015, replacing it with interim programs.
Fast forward to 2019 and the utility offers four different options to connect your solar installation to the utility grid:
- Customer Grid-Supply: You send all your electricity to the grid and receive credits on your bill. It’s similar to traditional net metering, but the credits are worth less than retail rate (the exact amount varies by island). This program remains open until capacity is reached. Hawaii Electric estimates that homeowners can save the most on utility bills with this option.
- Customer Grid-Supply Plus: Similar to the program above, but the utility can also remotely monitor and control (ie turn off) your installation as a tool for grid stability. Customers receive a monthly bill credit for energy delivered to the grid. This options seems to be the new standard, as the CGS option above reaches capacity.
- Smart Export: Option for solar coupled with energy storage. Export electricity from 4PM to 9AM. Must have solar (of course), batteries, and technology to manage system performance and grid reliability.
- Customer Self-Supply: Your system doesn’t send any electricity to the grid and you are not compensated for any electricity you send to the grid. This is an option if you want to also install batteries for your solar installation, so you can use your solar electricity at any time.
You’ll need to talk to your installers to see which option is best for you, both in lifestyle and as a financial investment.
As we mentioned above, since most of Hawaii’s electricity is generated from imported diesel, solar and other renewables are extremely important to the state’s future energy security. Over the years, the state legislature has passed several rules to make installing solar as easy as possible.
They’ve banned HOAs from barring rooftop solar panels (which many overly-active HOAs attempt to do fairly often in other states). HOAs can dictate where panels will be installed on your roof as long as the location doesn’t drop production by 25%+ or increase the cost of the installation by 15%+.
However, with so much distributed solar on the grid, actually receiving permission to connect has become a bigger deal. Utilities are allowed to conduct additional interconnection studies on some circuits to ensure the grid can handle more rooftop solar. On top of that, Hawaii Electric is undergoing a major review of its grid, so we might see some new regulations in the future.
Image Source: Public Domain via Pixabay